Jane Austen and the Law

Since Jane Austen’s Emma was first cited in 1978, Jane Austen and her work — sometimes together, sometimes separately — have been mentioned many, many time in legal decisions? Why?

Writing on Medium, Matthew H. Birkhold, professor of law, literature, and culture and author of the forthcoming book, Characters before Copyright (Oxford University Press) asks:

Why Do So Many Judges Cite Jane Austen in Legal Decisions?

Though it’s not something I’d ever thought about before, it proves to be a valid question. There are many. Birkhold writes:

In February 1998, Kimberly Hricko murdered her husband after beginning an affair with Brad Winkler. Kimberly fell for Brad, according to Judge William Horne of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, at a party where Brad “appeared at the edge of the crowd, like Darcy in Pride and Prejudice … an enigmatic new figure.” Apart from his initial appearance, Brad did not resemble Jane Austen’s beloved character: he aggressively pursued a married woman, something the honor-bound Lord of Pemberly would never have done. He was not particularly wealthy. And, most damning, Brad was described as “sweet.” The comparison with Darcy does nothing to shed light on Brad — but it wasn’t meant to. Rather, the judicial opinion cites Pride and Prejudice to portray Kimberly as a woman wrapped up in a dangerous fantasy.

The full piece is here.

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